My parents like to tell the story that when I was 5 years old, they bought a KFC bucket of chicken and took me down to the river for a picnic. There were some seagulls playing nearby. I looked up at my father, and said, "Dad, I'm a little uncomfortable eating bird in front of a bird." They like to joke that from that moment on, they knew I'd end up vegetarian. 11 years went by before I went completely vegetarian, but I can't really remember a time when I really wanted to eat meat. Like many wannabe vegetarian children, my mother was worried about my health, and reluctant to have to make two seperate dinners, and pretty much forbade me to become vegetarian. At 15, my oldest brother having paved the way by becoming vegetarian a few years ago, I gave up red meat for a year.
The next year, on New Years Day, I grumpily informed my mother that I had done the research she had demanded that I do on vegetarian health, and was not going to eat meat anymore. She reluctantly consented.
My mother accepted the situation (although was perpetually convinced that I was anaemic). My father resisted by cooking himself steak everynight. But he eventually took over the cooking from my tired mother, and both became excited about vegetarian food. They both still eat meat, but have become very supportive of my vegetarianism. A year or two later, my other brother became vegetarian as well.
While I was the only vegetarian in my social circle for both high school and university, none of my friends really ate much meat, so considering my family situation, I existed in a fairly vegetarian bubble. I never missed meat, and completely stopped considering it food. The only thing I really ever missed was fish and chips. As a child, fish and chips had been a favourite of mine, and my restaurant standby.
7 years after having become a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I moved to the UK, and this slight hankering for fish and chips became a problem. Everyone knows that England's national dish is fish and chips, and I had a slight curiousity to what my former favourite food would taste like in it's country of origin. And I gave in and had some. A few times.
About a year after having moved ot the UK I started to date my carnivorous, meat-loving boyfriend. I had been reading a lot (of what I know realise was propaganda) about the health benefits of fish, and a good friend of mine, who ate fish but no meat, told me that fish don't feel pain. I looked up the latter idea and found studies backing her up. I caved, and decided to try introducing fish into my diet.
I can't remember how long this period lasted. I wasn't really comfortable with the idea, and didn't eat much fish, but looking back, I can't imagine what on earth I was thinking. Luckily, a trip home to Canada came along to save me from my dulled self-hatred. While going home for a vacation, I read an article in the amazing magazine Vegetarian Times, about the supposed health beneifts of fish, and that often heard term, omega 3. The article informed me what I should have already realised, that omega 3 is a plant-based nutrient. The fish gets his/her omega 3 from plankton, and we then kill the fish and eat it, rather than just getting omega 3 from plant based sources, such as nuts, seeds, and sea vegetables. I felt so...relieved. I looked up the studies of fish and pain again, and discovered that the studies proposing that fish felt no or little pain had mostly been debunked. I happily gave up fish again. Since then (about a year ago), I have not looked back.
I think something good came out of those months as a fish-eater. I came back to the cause of vegetarianism with renewed vigour. Not that I had been, unvigourous, before but the issue had been less fresh in my mind. I began to research vegetarian issues online, and think about it more, and consequentially talk about it more. One day, while looking online, I stumbled across Alicia Silverstone's book about veganism, The Kind Diet, (UK), (Can). I'd always really liked Alicia (what teenaged girl in 1995 DIDN'T want to be her?), and I'd known for years that she was an animal rights activist, so I read through some of the reviews of her book on Amazon.
For the past 11 years, I had obviously been aware of veganism, and sympathetic to the cause, but I hadn't really personally thought it was necessary. Once I found out about the horrible conditions of modern-day egg farming, I bought free-range eggs and slept witha clear conscience. When I was younger my brother, who is not exactly vegan but hates diary and eggs, once pointed out to me that dairy cows were abused. I asked my parents about it, and they denied it. I believed them. In retrospect, I have no idea are why I believed them, but I did. And once I'd moved to the UK? As if! Despite it's crappy culinary reputation, the UK knows a thing or too about producing delicious dairy. Yogurt, cheddar, somerset brie, sour cream, whole milk...the UK versions of these things laugh in their Canadian versions' flavourless faces.
So for most of the time I'd been vegetarian, my line on veganism had been, "I completely respect vegans, and think they're probably right, but I could never give up dairy and eggs, and I don't really see why I should have to. I buy organic milk and free-range eggs."
But in reading about Alicia's book, I heard a few things I probably didn't want to, about the treatment of dairy cows and egg-laying hens. I started to think about veganism, but still not seriously. Ever eaten a cannoli on the side streets of Rome? It would addle anyone's moral convictions. But something in me wouldn't just dismiss the issue. I eventually looked up the comforting statement that every non-vegan tells themself, "cows need to be milked. They would get ill without the farmers doing it for them."
What I found changed my mind immediately. I stumbled upon Colleen Patrick Godreau's wonderful, WONDERFUL podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, in which she addresses that very question. And the answer? No. Cows don't need to be milked. Because they don't have milk unless they are pregnant; therefore, it is the job of the dairy industry to make sure that they are constantly pregnant, (the babies are sold for as veal), and then sold for meat once they unable to reproduce anymore.
I will go into the specifics more in a later blog. Suffice to say, I was shocked by the abuse of the dairy industry. And that happy little label "Free Range" on your egg carton means dick all.
From that moment on, I realised, somewhat dismayed, that I no longer had a choice. Either I cared, or I didn't care, and I had always said that I cared a lot. And caring for me, now meant becoming vegan.
This was only a few months ago. I have made some changes, and in some ways I'm surprised to notice how vegan I already was. I have not made a complete transition yet, but intend to, once I have said goodbye to anything dairy that I love, and figured out how to eat out as a vegan. And I like being vegan. I'm enjoying coming up with ways to replicate dairy using natural ingredients. I feel lighter. And the transition is opening me up to so many related issues of environmentalism and commercialism that I'm so so happy I stumbed upon all of this vegan information.
But seriously, eating out is a bitch.
The "I could totally be Vegan" Vegan Brownies
I've made many, many, MANY a brownie in my day. This recipe is hands down the best I've ever used. And no, they aren't healthy, but they're so awesome you won't be able to care.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup (and a few extra tablespoons if you want them really chocolatey) good quality cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
few dollops maple syrup (or other rich and flavourful syrup)
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Pour in maple syrup, water, vegetable oil and vanilla, and mix well. Pour into a 9x13 inch baking pan.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.